Maryland's Shane Cockerille Q&A: 'It’s no different than any other game for us'
Meet Maryland’s Shane Cockerille, one of the most versatile players in America.
The 6-2, 235-pound junior arrived in College Park, Maryland, as a heralded quarterback in 2013. Now, three years and two positions later, he finds himself as one of the Big Ten’s better linebackers.
Cockerille is No. 8 in the Big Ten tackles, averaging eight per game with 32 stops. Not bad for a guy who is in his first year at the position. After redshirting in 2013, Cockerille saw some action under center in 2014. The next year, he was moved to fullback but also still saw some time at quarterback. This year, Cockerille is a linebacker who dreams of throwing the ball.
He’s a big reason why the Terrapins are 4-0 and looking for their first 5-0 start since 2001, when Maryland won the ACC and played in the Orange Bowl. To reach 5-0, Cockerille and his teammates have to win at Penn State on Saturday in what’s a growing rivalry. Yes, Penn State is 36-2-1 all-time vs. Maryland. But the teams have split the last two encounters, both one-point decisions.
Who can forget the 2014 game, when the Terps captains refused to shake hands with the Nittany Lions captains at the coin toss, got penalized and went on to beat Penn State, 20-19, in Beaver Stadium to end a 29-game winless streak vs. the Nittany Lions? The Nits won last year in Baltimore, 31-30. This is a big battle to help establish a strong recruiting presence along the Eastern seaboard and move up the pecking order in the rugged Big Ten East.
I caught up with Cockerille, a Baltimore native who played high school ball at the Gilman School, as he prepped for the Nittany Lions.
Q: How much mojo does Maryland having coming off a 50-7 thumping of Purdue with a 4-0 record under first-year coach DJ Durkin?
A: It’s a big thing for us. We haven’t been 4-0 for a while (last time was 2013). Having this 4-0 mark and having the chance to be 5-0 is a big thing for us and will serve as a momentum boost going into this Penn State game.
Q: What is your role on the defense?
A: When I first made the transition to linebacker in the spring, I was all over the place. I had bad eyes, bad feet. But I worked all summer on my eyes and feet, trying to get them better. With each passing game, I have gotten more comfortable and am playing faster and more physically. I think the coaches were a bit nervous the first game of the year. But as games have gone on, my number on blitzes has been called more often. And I am making more tackles and I’m actually leading the team in tackles. I see my role increasing.
Q: Could you have envisioned being a linebacker coming out of high school?
A: No, not at all. Coming out of high school, I was an Elite 11 QB. I thought I was gonna be a big-time college quarterback. After a few semesters being here, I wasn’t really having fun with it. I requested a change once to defense and was put at fullback. When Coach Durkin got here, he gave me a chance at defense and I just took off and ran with it.
Q: Still any plays that call for you to throw the ball?
A: I am not sure, to be honest. (Offensive coordinator Walt) Coach Bell always jokes with me to be ready when my number is called, we might be using you. He hasn’t said too much, but I’m sure they have something.
Q: What would it mean to win at Penn State?
A: It would be huge. It’s a big game for both of us. Coach Durkin preaches to keep the same mind-set each week and taking it a game at a time. It’s no different than any other game for us. We will have the same focus and concentration that we had against Purdue. Penn State is a great team with some great athletes and a few are from Maryland. It will be a fun game.
Q: What do you think of Penn State QB Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley?
A: They are both great athletes. Barkley is an awesome back. He’s athletic and can make all the cuts and reads. He will be a fun guy to play against. McSorley, too. He isn’t the tallest guy but he can make plays, and makes plays out of the pocket with his feet and throwing the ball downfield to some good receivers.
Q: Who is the hardest hitter on defense?
A: I like to think me. Me and (fellow linebacker) Jermaine (Carter) both.
Q: Who is the toughest?
A: I would like to think me and Jermaine are.
Q: What has the presence of Carter meant to you?
A: When I first switched, his experience helped. Watching what he did and how he worked. How his feet were, how he was tackling people and covering. It was a big help. And studying film with him has been great. He is a student of the game and knows what’s going on. He calls out plays before they happen. He is a huge help to play next to.
Q: How does having been a quarterback help you in your role as a linebacker?
A: It helps. Being a quarterback, you have to know a lot about both sides of the ball. What the defense is doing and how to react. It has helped me be able to recognize certain formations. It’s easier to know what type of play you may be getting. No doubt, playing quarterback helps me at linebacker.